Thinking about raising Mangalitsa pigs yourself? Here’s a quick look at winter chores here on our beautiful, biodiverse farm.
Sure, we love raising Mangalitsa pigs and providing people with quality, sustainable pork products. But we’re just one farm. It’s only when we all join together in defense of our bodies and the environment that real change can occur.
So naturally, we love to teach. Nothing fuels our passion like helping others make an impact through starting their own farms. Today’s topic? The life and times of a Mangalitsa pig farm in the winter. If you’re wondering what the cold season involves on a mini farm or even on a larger one like ours, we’ve got the inside scoop.
Planning for an Eco-friendly Diet
Winter is a time of planning. There’s still a lot of slopping through the snow and getting work done, of course. But the real work of winter is planning for the other three seasons.
This year, for instance, our goal is to make serious headway toward raising our animals without any row-cropped food. Today’s pig farms are rife with medicated feed made from genetically modified corn. The inputs required to farm in such an intense, soil-depleting manner are significant. Also, nitrogen runoff is a huge issue in our waterways.
Moreover, glyphosate – the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, used all over the world – is incredibly destructive to the environment. It kills beneficial insects, butterflies, and other wildlife. Several health authorities, including the World Health Organization, have concluded that glyphosate is probably cancerous to humans. Naturally, we want to feed our pigs without resorting to poison.
Then there’s the issue of antibiotics. If you look at the label from the Lindner Starter Grower 20% Mix hog feed, the active ingredient is bacitracin methylene disalicylate, which is an antibiotic. It also says on the label that this should be the sole feed pigs receive. Unfortunately, with the growing threat of superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria – this is an incredibly shortsighted move. It’s going to affect us all.
It takes time to design a different path, though. Planning and figuring out how to live differently is one of our biggest winter chores.
Sustainable Eating on a Pig Farm
Pigs need to eat sustainably and wholesomely, just like people. We recently lost a piglet to vitamin E deficiency. This piglet was eating bagged feed. While there was vitamin E in the food, because of the lack of adequate nutrients, the piglet wasn’t absorbing it.
The standard approach is to give pigs a vitamin E injection. But even when you do that, you’ll have to follow up with another stopgap measure. It’s a self-perpetuating problem. I would prefer to prevent the problem than to treat the problem. That’s why we give our pigs whole, natural foods containing vitamin E, such as pumpkins, apples, and nuts—foods we grow that are healthy for our pigs.
Each winter, we sit down and really think through the foods we will grow in spring, summer, and fall. We make a list of seeds, always keeping in mind the pigs’ needs. All animals need a variety of foods to support their diets. They will turn to these different foods to meet various nutritional needs. Given a chance, animals will “self-medicate.” They will seek out the foods that meet their current nutritional requirements. We want to provide those foods, which means planning and planting.
Some of the plants we already grow or are considering growing this year include:
- Black locust
- Siberian pea shrub
- Alfalfa (especially important for the winter diet)
Alfalfa illustrates an important point. It’s what we’ll give our pigs next year in early spring, and we’re already planning for it now. You have to think well ahead if you want to give pigs a nutritious diet and produce nutritious meat.
Biodiversity and Interdependence
We also feed eggs to our pigs. Doing this requires that we take care to plan out our approach to raising chickens and ducks. Both of these birds eat a lot of insects, which they convert to a different form of protein: eggs. When we give those eggs to pigs, the pigs again rearrange those proteins to create a new protein: bacon.
Essentially, by leveraging the food web, we can turn grasshoppers into bacon. It’s a pretty good deal. After all, you wouldn’t eat a wood tick, would you? Yet when you farm this way, the birds eat that wood tick for you. That means you’re making use of an abundant natural resource.
We also make good use of chicken manure. Some quick math shows that our chickens put out enough manure in a single year to produce 160 bushels of corn. That translates to 198 pounds of nitrogen a year and 105 pounds of potassium. It saves us $1,130. But more importantly, using this manure means we’re not getting into the car to buy fertilizer. Also, we’re not left throwing away a plastic bag. We’re not wasting manure or letting it run off into streams.
Again, though, this takes work. If you want to turn that manure into valuable compost, you have to nurture it through the winter. We have two 18-bushel compost tumblers. We add our browns and our greens, taking care to keep the compost cool enough to safeguard the bacteria inside. Then it’s a matter of turning it and generally taking care of it. It’s definitely work; but in the end, it’s worth it.
The Constant Question: What Works on Our Mangalitsa Pig Farm?
Each winter, we give a lot of thought to what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes an idea simply doesn’t pan out, and we have to let it go. Other times an idea works so well, we’d never live without it again.
Take insulated huts, which have been a big success for us in the winter. An insulated hut is simply an 8×8 structure with a door on one side. It’s placed on pasture through which pigs can go out to graze and return to get warm. They’re not heated, but they keep the space underneath nice and warm, even in the depths of winter. This technique encourages our pigs to continue eating greens, rather than staying inside a barn and simply eating grain.
On the other hand, some of our winter practices aren’t so great, such as farrowing. When sows give birth in the winter, there are some benefits, the biggest of which is bears are hibernating rather than on the prowl. Yet it can be a difficult practice too and is often easier for all concerned in the spring. We’re really not sure which way we’ll go on that. The takeaway? We’re always asking ourselves: “What works? What doesn’t?”
The truth is, raising Mangalitsa pigs is a long game, and we have to adapt constantly. Winter, while we still have plenty of physical chores to do, offers us a bit of a break to plan out the rest of the year. Naturally, we have dozens of other tasks as well, but these are some of our primary winter chores. If you have questions or just want to talk more about raising pigs, we’d love to connect with you so please get in touch.